Team “Wade the Warrior” has been one of the top fundraising teams for the Down Syndrome Association of Greater Cincinnati’s Buddy Walk in the four years they’ve participated.
Fort Thomas resident Kelly Metz, her family and friends, and the star of the show, her son, Wade, started attending the walk the year Wade was born, in 2020. Since then, approximately 150 to 200 of Metz’s family and friends have shown up for what they call “Wade’s Day.” Their team has already raised $16,450 for this year’s walk on Sept 9.
The Down Syndrome Association of Greater Cincinnati provides support, resources, outreach, advocacy, and programs every year for those who have a family member with Down syndrome. The group started the Buddy Walk in 2002, and it has become their biggest fundraising event of the year and draws in around 13,000 participants.
The walk route is filled with entertainment and music at every turn and finishes with an after-party with food and drinks.
Wade, the Warrior’s team captain, is Metz’s sister-in-law Natalie Canfield, who helps organize the team annually.
“I think this was our way of helping when we didn’t really know what to do,” Canfield said. “We were all on board—it was a family effort between Kelly’s parents, my parents, my siblings.”
The Communications Coordinator for the Down Syndrome Association of Greater Cincinnati, Krissy Vinson, got choked up as she said the team has raised approximately $100,000 for the association over the past four years. Vinson said the money raised provides 50% of the association’s operating budget. The proceeds also help support resources and outreach programs. All the money stays in the Greater Cincinnati area, which includes Campbell, Kenton, and Boone Counties.
Metz said 2020 was challenging for obvious reasons and due to health concerns with Wade.
“We were a little bit overwhelmed with what Wade had going on that year,” Metz said. “He had to have heart surgery. We weren’t sure health-wise where he was at. So, family stepped in when we just didn’t even know where to start.”
Vinson said the walk is a big day of celebration.
“I’ve worked there for ten years, and I have family members with Down syndrome, so I’ve been going to the Buddy Walk my whole life, and to walk into Sawyer Point and see 10s of 1000s of people there to support your kid is really powerful, especially for our new families,” she said. “We have some families that come when they get a prenatal diagnosis just to experience it. And it’s like, ‘Wow, all these people care about my kid.'”
Having a diagnosis they weren’t familiar with and feeling isolated due to the pandemic, Metz said, her family felt supported by the association and the community that attends the walk.
“I think it’s good for us family members, and it’s good for cousins and everybody else to see people like Wade in all the different stages of life, too, because Wade’s so little and so fragile—he had heart surgery,” Canfield said. “So, it’s so cool to see these people thriving in different stages. And to make my kids aware that there are so many more special people like Wade and that we’re celebrating them as they grow.”
The Down Syndrome Association of Greater Cincinnati supports people with Down Syndrome throughout their life with programs like cooking classes, adult speech therapy, employment prep, cheerleading, and more.
Metz has also had help from the association’s School Matters Coordinator, who attended meetings with her for Wade to start preschool.
“She asked a lot of good questions that I would never have even thought of, and it was so nice to have her with me in that meeting,” Matz said. “Just giving me the confidence to speak about what I was concerned about.”
Vinson said a lot of what the association does is connect parents to one another. Metz said she and her husband have met with families that have received a prenatal diagnosis.
“I’ve met with a few families that got a prenatal diagnosis,” Metz said. “My husband met with the father of one, and we asked them to join the walk, but their baby is due the day of the walk. They’re not going to make it this year, but he just said they’re welcome to come meet at some point if they’re ready; we’re here if they need us.”
Metz said she sees Wade the Warrior continuing to participate in the Buddy Walk every year in the future.
“The first year was a little overwhelming for him, but he was born in 2020, so he hadn’t been around that many people,” she said. “Last year, he loved it. He was dancing; he could not wait to get up there and see everyone. He has a little blue car that we’ve pushed him in the last couple of years, which will be returning this year. He likes to ride around in that and lead our little crew through the walk.”